The premiere of a play is usually followed by a supper of dainties such as smoked salmon on skinny bread. Rewena, by Whiti Hereaka, winner of the 2012 Bruce Mason Playwriting Award, gives you hope for something better.
For starters, actor Tanea Heke is there to welcome you as you enter the theatre. When you sit down, Heke is on stage as cooking instructor Maggie, thanking us for attending her class on how to make rewena, Maori potato bread.
It all seems simple enough: the set is a plain white kitchen and Heke’s role is a one-hander, although she needs both to knead the dough, a mesmerising process. While she prepares ingredients, including the mysterious bug, Maggie tells her own complex story and answers her mobile for reports on the final of a television cooking show. One of the finalists was taught to make rewena by her.
With inspired use of lighting and a wholehearted performance by Heke, bread making becomes drama. Maggie then takes the audience with her into the foyer, where we feast on fresh-baked rewena (we could smell it during the performance), with butter and golden syrup.
The play is less than an hour long and satisfying in all respects. It is directed by Rima Te Wiata, also known as an actor, comedian and musical performer. Credit goes as well to behind-the-scenes baker Reremoana Byrnes, who makes the batches of rewena for the play’s delicious climax.